Every year, thousands of insanely toned athletes descend on Columbus from as many as 80 different countries. You'll see their tanned physiques around town, carrying fanny packs and ordering special high-protein meals at your favorite restaurants. And they will, no doubt, inspire you to kick-start any New Year's health resolutions you have already abandoned.

Every year, thousands of insanely toned athletes descend on Columbus from as many as 80 different countries. You’ll see their tanned physiques around town, carrying fanny packs and ordering special high-protein meals at your favorite restaurants. And they will, no doubt, inspire you to kick-start any New Year’s health resolutions you have already abandoned.

This year, for the 27th annual Arnold Sports Festival, which is the largest multi-sport event in the nation, 18,000 athletes are expected to compete in 50 sports, which will take place Thursday-Sunday, March 5-8, in venues in and around downtown, including the Greater Columbus Convention Center/Hyatt Regency, the Hilton Downtown, the LC Pavilion, Columbus Hollywood Casino, and — new this year — at the Ohio Expo Center.

What you might not know, however, is that the Arnold is about more than bodybuilding. The diversity of the Arnold’s athletic, cultural and entertainment offerings may surprise you. Here are some of our off-the-beaten-path picks for the Arnold this year.

Sports you’ve never heard of before

It’s always fun to learn something new. We’re just itching to find out what a game of pickleball entails (from YouTube videos it looks kind of like a cross between tennis, ping pong and badminton). The same goes for Guns & Hoses Boxing, in which Ohio police officers and firefighters fight each other in amateur boxing matches at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, at the Celeste Center at the Ohio Expo.

Your favorite sports, new to the Arnold!

Soccer, equestrian, archery and indoor rowing make their debut at the Arnold this year, so check out some of the top athletes in your most beloved sports.

Models with muscles

The Arnold Model Search sounds like something that would make a very entertaining reality TV show. But the inaugural contest, which is scouting for the best and most bodacious aspiring “fitness models,” will offer its winner an MHP sponsorship contract valued at over $4,000. The finals will be held Friday at the Greater Columbus Convention Center’s Battelle Grand.

Arnold playing chess

Is there anything the Governator can’t do? Dublin resident Emma Chang, 8, will find out when she challenges him to a game of chess, at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Ohio Expo Center. No pressure, Emma!

Art at the Arnold

For the sixth year, the Arnold will ask 50 artists to create pieces using a variety of media and inspired by model athletes and sports action. The resulting art will be shown from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday in the Hyatt-Regency/Convention Center connector.

Shopping!

If a marathon trip through more than 900 booths featuring the latest in sports equipment, clothing and nutrition sounds more fun to you than actually running a marathon, the Arnold Fitness EXPO is the place to be. It runs throughout the entire event in the main hall of the Greater Columbus Convention Center. Admission is $15 per day.

Arnold Kids Fitness EXPO

Brand new this year, this event for younger athletes will feature demonstrations and clinics in baseball, chess, fencing, football, golf, gymnastics, hockey, soccer and more. It will also feature a stage with two full days of entertainment, including the Arnold’s Kids Got Talent! finals, presented by Columbus Children’s Theatre, which will take place from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday. The Arnold Kids Fitness EXPO will be open from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. on Saturday, and from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sunday, at the Ohio Expo Center.

Photo

David Welch, left, and Rocky Durr, right, battle each other in a game of Mas-Wrestling at the Arnold Sports Festival inside The Greater Columbus Convention Center in Columbus on Feb. 28, 2014. Mas-Wrestling is but one of many unique sports featured at the annual sports festival.

Dispatch photo by Kyle Robertson